How do we bring about a paradigm shift so that human rights and cybersecurity are understood to be interdependent and mutually reinforcing?

In the public debate about how to provide security in the digital context, the dominant narrative has become increasingly entrenched pitting privacy and other human rights against public safety and national security. In practice, though, threats to privacy and other human rights can also harm public safety and security. This binary framing is therefore damaging to both sides of the equation, and creates antagonisms where mutual reinforcement is possible. Framing privacy and other human rights as antithetical to public safety and national security is not only misleading, but undermines public safety and security, as well as freedom. Raising the profile of human rights protections in existing cybersecurity policy-making is necessary to offset this trend.

In the context of increasing cyber vulnerability, where cybersecurity and cybercrime challenges are increasing in frequency and complexity, there is a need for all stakeholders to work together to preserve human rights, particularly privacy and free expression. The “An Internet Free and Secure” working group believes very strongly that individual security is a core purpose of cybersecurity and a secure Internet is central to human rights protection in the digital context. The working group’s definition of cybersecurity reinforces that privacy and confidentiality of information are essential to the security of people, as well as to data, especially in the digital context where physical security and digital information are linked.

Cybersecurity and human rights are complementary, mutually reinforcing and interdependent. Both need to be pursued together to effectively promote freedom and security. Recognizing that individual security is at the core of cybersecurity means that protection for human rights should be at the center of cybersecurity policy development. Such an approach is instrumental in reminding policy-makers that cybersecurity must take into account individual security and human rights and that, as a consequence, cybersecurity policies should be human rights respecting by design.

The primary task of the working group is to help bring a paradigm shift to cybersecurity so that human rights and cybersecurity are understood to be interdependent and mutually reinforcing. The challenge facing the working group is how to translate this paradigm shift into action across a diversity of policy spaces and change the conversation so that human rights are a central part of cybersecurity related decision making. To do so requires breaking down policy-silo boundaries, dislodging the dominant rights versus-security paradigm, and building evidence that human rights and cybersecurity are mutually reinforcing and interdependent.

To this end, the working group has developed a set of cybersecurity and human rights focused policy recommendations that can be applied in a variety of situations. These recommendations build upon and advance existing cybersecurity policy-making efforts while prioritising human rights. They offer guidance to all stakeholders involved in cybersecurity matters, and in particular those involved in developing and implementing cybersecurity policies and frameworks.

Panel 1

Recommendations for human rights based approaches to cybersecurity

These recommendations are a first step towards ensuring that cybersecurity policies and practices are based upon and fully consistent with human rights – effectively, that cybersecurity policies and practices are rights-respecting by design.

  1. Cybersecurity policies and decision-making processes should protect and respect human rights.
  2. The development of cybersecurity-related laws, policies, and practices should from their inception be human rights respecting by design.
  3. Cybersecurity-related laws, policies and practices should enhance the security of persons online and offline, taking into consideration the disproportionate threats faced by individuals and groups at risk.
  4. The development and implementation of cybersecurity-related laws, policies and practices should be consistent with international law, including international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
  5. Cybersecurity-related laws, policies and practices should not be used as a pretext to violate human rights, especially free expression, association, assembly, and privacy.
  6. Responses to cyber incidents should not violate human rights.
  7. Cybersecurity-related laws, policies and practices should uphold and protect the stability and security of the Internet, and should not undermine the integrity of infrastructure, hardware, software and services.
  8. Cybersecurity-related laws, policies and practices should reflect the key role of encryption and anonymity in enabling the exercise of human rights, especially free expression, association, assembly, and privacy.
  9. Cybersecurity-related laws, policies and practices should not impede technological developments that contribute to the protection of human rights.
  10. Cybersecurity-related laws, policies, and practices at national, regional and international levels should be developed through open, inclusive, and transparent approaches that involve all stakeholders.
  11. Stakeholders should promote education, digital literacy, and technical and legal training as a means to improving cybersecurity and the realization of human rights.
  12. Human rights respecting cybersecurity best practices should be shared and promoted among all stakeholders.
  13. Cybersecurity capacity building has an important role in enhancing the security of persons both online and offline; such efforts should promote human rights respecting approaches to cybersecurity.

Expressions of support


Freedom Online Coalition member states
United States


Access Now
Access To Information Namibia (ACTION) Coalition
Association des droits numériques (Association for digital rights)
Association for Progressive Communications
Australian Privacy Foundation
Bangladesh Internet Governance Forum
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Law and Technology (Nepal)
Centre African D’Echange Culturel
Centre for Information Technology and Development
Centre for Internet and Society
The Centre for Law and Democracy
Fantsuam Foundation
Global Partners Digital
Human Rights Watch
Instituto Panameño de Derecho y Nuevas Tecnologías (Panama Institute of Law and New Technologies)
Legal Education Advancement and Development
Linux Accra Users Group
Open Technology Institute at New America
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms
Paradigm Initiative Nigeria
University of Aarhus
Women of Uganda Network


Susan Aaronson
Renata Aquino Ribeiro
Analía Aspis
Belisario Contreras
Rafik Dammak
Camille M. François
Stefania Milan
Federico Nier-Fischer
Tatiana Tropina

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